Memoir as a first book

The writing process, writing advice, and updates on your work in progress
Post Reply
dpwriter
Posts: 9
Joined: August 28th, 2010, 6:29 pm
Contact:

Memoir as a first book

Post by dpwriter » September 13th, 2010, 10:56 pm

I'd like some feedback on something that I realize one could go either way with. Nevertheless, I'd like to hear your (and ideally Nathan's) opinion on this.

Is it a bad idea to write a memoir as your first book? Is there the risk of writing yourself into a corner and then not getting back out? Or put another way, will a memoir be better received if you've already proven yourself by writing a fiction novel? This is probably a silly question, but I'm curious to hear if anyone has any strong opinions about this.

Thanks!
Dawn

User avatar
Quill
Posts: 1059
Joined: March 17th, 2010, 9:20 pm
Location: Arizona
Contact:

Re: Memoir as a first book

Post by Quill » September 13th, 2010, 11:12 pm

I wrote a memoir and tried to sell it. Now it's in the drawer waiting until I'm famous Kingdom Come I feel the time is right to rewrite.

I don't think it was the smartest thing I ever did to put so much time into it when I did. Thinking I could sell it.

But maybe you can sell yours.

You know the book "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson? Best seller about his quest to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan? I think of that as a memoir. First book he ever wrote.

I think it helps if you have a platform, which can be being well known or if you're writing about a well known subject (like 9/11, if you were in one of the towers). But it's not necessary. Just probably harder to get published. It has to be great writing, really cohesive, and a great angle (on life, on some aspect of it). Something many others can relate to.

User avatar
steve
Posts: 203
Joined: June 26th, 2010, 12:09 am
Location: Web City
Contact:

Re: Memoir as a first book

Post by steve » September 14th, 2010, 1:17 am

dpwriter wrote: Is it a bad idea to write a memoir as your first book?
Thankfully the era of memoirs by insignificant people is over.

If it's not over, it's dying a slow death. It was all the rage for most of the last decade

Unless you've done something spectacular, best write something else.
Read one of the best stories by Borges.

User avatar
Quill
Posts: 1059
Joined: March 17th, 2010, 9:20 pm
Location: Arizona
Contact:

Re: Memoir as a first book

Post by Quill » September 14th, 2010, 1:25 am

steve wrote: Thankfully the era of memoirs by insignificant people is over.
Hey, I resemble that remark!

:)

wonderactivist
Posts: 14
Joined: August 24th, 2010, 8:10 am
Location: Great Plains
Contact:

Re: Memoir as a first book

Post by wonderactivist » September 14th, 2010, 8:28 am

Hey Quill!

Don't resent it, just tell us about your "platform." That's what they're looking for in memoir. There is hope, however. I work in a bookstore and the memoir shelves are bursting with people who weren't well known before they broke through, suddenly. with a work that touched others. Think about it: Elizabeth Gilbert sold the movie rights to a magazine article, "Coyote Ugly."

Who would've thunk?

Here's something I enjoy listening to when the world keeps telling me I'm insane to be a writer and they act like I'm insane to write murder mystery--after all, I've never committed or been taken out by murder...never been a cop: "Elizabeth Gilbert: A new way to think about creativity" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA

Lucie

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: Memoir as a first book

Post by polymath » September 14th, 2010, 1:08 pm

Most if not all struggling writers have conscious, subconscious, or nonconscious desires to write about themselves. The most beautiful sounds in the world to any given person are the sound of one's own voice others want to listen to and the sound of one's name spoken by another or someone else favorably talking about one's self. One's life story in print and enjoying the contrary approvals and disapprovals of outspoken critics must be much like that.

Many writing advisors say a large part of a struggling writer's first million words are autobiographical, author surrogacy, wish fulfillment, etc. I'd say writing a memoir first would just about get all that out of a writer's system, up-front systematically, deliberately; meanwhile, working on developing writing skills and instincts and finding one's voice's strengths and weaknesses. And who knows? it might just be the one in a million that wins through the building industry resistance to memoir of late.

Memoir as I know it is a coherent account of larger-than-life, life defining event(s) with private and public relevance. Broader terms are personal narrative and personal essay. I've studied the genre independently and academically. The weaknesses I encounter have to do with perceptions of what memoir is. For many, it's an entire life story of a noteable personage, infamous, notorious, or revered individuals with all the bits from birth to present included regardless of contribution to reader rapport. A widespread perception exists that memoir only succeeds when it's about a somebody who's-who that a large audience is interested in. But that's only one of the trinity of essential facets for any narrative's reader engaging qualities, reader resonance with a setting, idea, character, and/or event for the sake of building reader rapport. Tension's empathy is another, and, of course, theme.

Personal narratives don't have to be about the self. The main factor is a writer's true self is relevant to the narrative's circumstances. A personal narrative can be about another person, a place, a thing, an event, a time, a situation, and/or an idea. Putting them all together is the height of personal narrative arts.

Another weakness I encounter frequently with personal narrative is a tendency to overlook the needs of storycraft, the qualities of storytelling generally associated with fiction but no less crucial in creative nonfiction. Setting, plot, idea, character, and event are essential and all that they entail. I've read countless nonfiction narratives that lacked for basic plot attributes. Setting and character emphasis predominated, which are themselves nonfiction subgenres as they are fiction subgenres. Needless to say, reader rapport engagement suffered. At the core of each, the main dramatic complication was under-realized and thus lacked for realizing dramatic structure. Rather, they were organized by another method, i.e., chronologically but without payoff in the denouement, logically by escalating detail, like the scientific experimental method, and so on. Sadly, too many of them didn't realize their potential emotional payoffs, intellectual payoffs sometimes, inspirational or spiritual payoffs sometimes, sometimes they just end open endedly.

Of course, nonfiction is the art of reporting fact for many readers and critics. The debate between truthful reporting and artistic license for the sake of method of delivery rages on in the public forum and is in no risk of being unequivocally settled anytime soon. But therein is an answer to what a personal narrative should do, report as truthfully as possible without losing sight of the art of engaging storytelling. In other words, addressing larger-than-life, life defining complications with private and public relevance is what the reading public wants from memoirs of known or unknown persons. Or in the immortal words of some long forgotten poeticist, 365 days in a year, the one that's different is the one the story's about.

Reading suggestions;
Phillip Lopate The Art of the Personal Essay, 1997, Lopate's take on the form and anthology.
Lee Gutkind In Fact, The Best of Creative Nonfiction, 2005, Annie Dillard introduction, Gutkind on the fact police, and anthology.
Tobias Wolff This Boy's Life, 1989, a personal journey of lies, reinventing identity, and consequences.
Chuck Klosterman Sex, Lies, and Cocoa Puffs, 2003, pop culture personal essay collection.
Sarah Vowell Assassination Vacation, 2005, personal travelogue.
Spread the love of written word.

User avatar
Mira
Posts: 1354
Joined: December 7th, 2009, 9:59 am
Contact:

Re: Memoir as a first book

Post by Mira » September 15th, 2010, 8:17 pm

Wow polymath, that is all so helpful!

I think this is a hard question to answer without knowing more about you, and what you mean by writing yourself into a corner. You can always publish something else under another name if it comes to that ......

I also want to say that the order you write a book and the order you try to have them published don't have to be the same thing. So, if the memoir is knocking at your door, write it. You can always publish it later if you feel that's best, for whatever reason.

I don't know if that's helpful - but those are my thoughts......good luck!

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest